Legislative Week 5: Big changes in Ga. transportation laws

This past week, the Georgia General Assembly convened its fifth week of session. Last year, I wrote a great deal about my concern over the way the Georgia Department of Transportation conducts its business. I strongly believe that the DOT, as much as any agency of state government, needs to be reformed in a way that ensures Georgia’s taxpayer dollars are being spent efficiently.

Last week, after much anticipation, two major transportation proposals finally began to take shape. Gov. Perdue, along with Speaker Richardson and Lt. Gov. Cagle, announced the Transforming Transportation Investment Act on Thursday.

This initiative would reorganize transportation administration in Georgia by merging the State Road and Tollway Authority and Georgia Regional Transportation Authority into the State Transportation Authority. The Authority would be responsible for developing a statewide transportation plan in conjunction with metropolitan planning organizations.

The supervisory board would comprise 11 members: five appointed by the governor and three each by the speaker and the lt. governor.

Overall, the authority would focus on three distinct areas of responsibility: managing operations and maintenance of existing infrastructure, coordinating new road and transit projects and enhancements, and local grants.

Our current system is broken and hasn’t been reformed since the days when Georgia was primarily dirt roads. Given the rampant gridlock in metro Atlanta, I believe the time has come to ensure our transportation dollars are being maximized and spent as efficiently as possible. I look forward to participating in the debate as the process moves forward in the weeks to come.

The second transportation proposal was focused on infrastructure funding. Earlier in the session, Rep. Vance Smith, the chair of the House Transportation Committee, presented a revised version of a statewide transportation funding proposal (HB 277).

Last year, I voted against a transportation funding plan (T-SPLOST) out of concern that it would be premature to provide the DOT any new funding stream without significant reforms to ensure the money is spent efficiently and responsibly. Last year’s measure passed the House, but died in the Senate on the last night of the session.

House Bill 277, along with its companion House Resolution 206, would give the voters the right to vote on a constitutional ballot initiative to levy a 1 percent sales tax that would fund transportation upgrades around the state.

The tax revenue would be invested in the 2020 Transportation Fund and administered by an 11-member committee appointed by the governor, lt. governor, and speaker. House Resolution 208 will place this sales tax referendum on the 2010 ballot if passed by the House and Senate.

I believe the author made drastic improvements in this year’s bill in terms of spending transparency and accountability and look forward to seeing the final product, when and if, it is considered on the floor of the House.

There was also an important food safety related measure taken up in the Senate last week. The recent nationwide salmonella outbreak caused by tainted peanuts from a Georgia processor prompted Senate Bill 80.

This bill places additional duties on food processing companies to report positive tests in food products and gives additional powers to the Department of Agriculture to respond to those reports. Current law does not require positive results from voluntary tests to be reported to the department. This bill passed the Senate 50-0 and will be taken up by the House soon.

I will continue to provide updates as the session moves forward. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns.

[Matt Ramsey, an attorney in Peachtree City, represents District 72 in the Georgia House of Representatives.]

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mapleleaf's picture
Submitted by mapleleaf on Sat, 02/28/2009 - 12:51pm.

Our state representative Matt Ramsey seems to think it’d be fine if we had an 8 percent sales tax.

The idea is this. Cut corporate taxes for the fat cats (the likes of Coca Cola, Home Depot, etc.). Then claim the state of Georgia has no money for transportation (roads). Then ask the voters to approve a one-percent increase in the state sales tax if they want decent roads to travel on.

It’s the Republican strategy. Ramsey is all set to vote for it. It makes things look as if the people themselves want higher sales taxes.

Isn’t that what you get from his report?

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